This is Issue #84 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
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Shaking his head, Secta continued. “Only in his blood will burn Ilona’s fire. His blood will bear the one True Gift of Ilona, eternal. Wait. His blood will bear it eternally? Or his blood will bear eternity? Or it is that Ilona’s True Gift shall be eternal?”
He groaned, pushing the book away from himself, and got back up to pace again, picking up a different book, one he’d been looking at back in his own room, in the palace, where he felt he belonged.
He wondered if the room had been cleaned out, when he asked for his books.
Would he be allowed to go back?
His head throbbed, and he set down the book he was holding, half-dropping it. It flopped open to the page discussing the various blood gifts of house Venator, and he forced himself to read and reread the pages where scribes had recorded what the various generations of House Venator’s sons and daughters were capable of doing.
From the mighty Immanis, who could command with his voice, to a ‘never-spoken-of-aloud’ broken branch of the family tree centuries ago whose gift seemed to be for fecundity — and yet nearly every one of his forty-six children by seventeen different brides died at birth, upon taking their first breath. Sixteen of the brides died in their second, third, or forth stint in the birthing chair.
“What happened to the seventeenth?” Secta wondered aloud. “That poor girl.” He rubbed his temples, staring at the words. He found himself smiling in congratulations for the woman who rid herself of the seed before it took deep root. She withdrew from the throne and lived out the remainder of her blessedly long life as Dowager Queen, allowing the throne to pass to her husband’s brother, whose son was somewhat sickly and so immediately had his grandson succeed him, and thereafter, the line continued on and on and on, down to Immanis.
“And now to Lucida,” he said quietly. “And then presumably to the sons or daughters she may have with the Guardian.
Three thousand years of an unbroken bloodline — unheard of in other lands, in other cultures but simply accepted as a way of life within Intemeratus Posito. That other leaders’ lines could not withstand time meant they were weak.
“If the seed Gemma attempted to plant even took. And what if it did not? What if Lucida bore no children? The line would die with her. Would Ilona survive such a thing? Would the Guardian be looked to, to continue? Would his blood become the new line, or would they view him as the thing that had robbed Ilona of its Legacy? Perhaps–“
The throbbing in his head returned, and Secta glanced up at the clock. It would be time to go, soon. The thought of seeing Jet again made his heart race, and in turn, made his headache feel crushing. “Gods, my head,” he whispered aloud.
He pulled the book containing the high speech back to him and struggled again to go over it, pressing his fingers against pages so thin they were almost translucent. “Only his blood — his blood only. His blood will only carry — no.”
Secta felt the pain radiate behind his eyes toward the back of his head, a spike driven through him, impaling his thoughts, making it hard to get them out. He remembered the way Gemma had lied, how he had caught her at her horrible schemes, how he had confronted her, and she had seemed so afraid, so pained, perhaps even ready to confess, or at the very least, stop, once she’d been caught.
But then also, he remembered how she had murdered him.
The first strike of the candlestick had not quite caught him by surprise. He’d seen the way Gemma watched what was about to happen to him. Someone else had swung the blow, but she had held his hands, been on her knees, begging him.
He remembered the way he saw his own blood spatter against her breasts as he’d fallen into her, no longer able to move. He remembered there had been another strike, but by then, the cold had come to suffuse his limbs, and he had been blinded by something he only later understood was death itself, come to claim him.
He remembered waking up on the floor, after. There had been fire and pain, but it was the sort of pain that was half-pleasure, searing through him from root to voice, playing sparks on the back of his tongue, leading him back to life, burning him clean of the chill of death.
Where was that fire, now? All he felt was cold. Tired.
He remembered, suddenly, the space in between. He felt his throat tighten, his body tremble. “No,” he breathed. “No, please.”
He ground his teeth, tightening his hands into fists, refusing to acknowledge the dark, the black, the void that had come, before the fire, before salvation and rebirth. The nothing that had surrounded him, unending. “No,” he insisted. “I am whole. I am Secta. I am beloved. Favored.”
Nothing answered him; silence mocked him easily — Secta panted, there at the table, panicked, but opened his eyes to find that the day was growing faintly brighter, that the world was exactly as he’d left it only moments ago. “I am safe,” he said softly. “I am whole. I am beloved. I am favored. I am Secta.”
Sitting at the table, Secta felt his heart thunder in his chest, his head pound, the chill of his own death creeping around the edges of his consciousness. “Only his blood,” Secta whispered, the realization dawning. “Oh, my Jet. Nothing truly lasts, does it? Beloved or not, I do not have the same time you have.”
He closed his eyes and put his face in his hands, exhausted and pained. Any minute, he had to leave — to go to the coronation. Any minute now.
“I just need to rest,” he whispered, laying his head down on the table. “Gods, I just need to rest, just a moment.”
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